New Year's Day 2014...

Last night as we sipped a little bubbly and greeted the New Year, we spoke of the year gone by - and what we hoped for in the one being born. Because I write an "annual report" in my professional life, I had been doing some reflection about 2013 but not much thinking about the year to come - with one exception:  the time has come for me to find a local spiritual director.  You see, this past year has been emotionally and physically demanding in ways I haven't always honored:  death, anxiety, fear and fretting as well joy and wonder have taken their toll.  I put it like this in my year end reflection for my faith community: 
The perspective of the pastor is always skewed when it comes to writing an annual report. Like it or not, there is an intimate connection between the well-being of the pastor and the life of the congregation.  Simultaneously, both pastor and congregation are defined by God’s grace in ways that are greater than our actions, imaginations or even faith. And that’s what makes the writing of an annual report such a challenge. The apostle Paul articulated it like this in his own ministry:  For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (I Corinthians 12: 12) 

Ministry is a mystery: one part blood, sweat and tears; one part pure luck and circumstance; one part prayer and personal creativity; and seven parts grace. In a word, mostly I do this work by faith, trusting that God’s grace is sufficient for the day because measurable “results” are always fluid when it comes to the connection between the Holy Spirit and our humanity. Indeed, while I look to a few key metrics to help me evaluate and plan, it is always with the deeper awareness that “now we see as through a glass darkly...”  

Two quotes from vastly different sources - Trevor Eve on a British TV show and Fr. Richard Rohr in his daily email - underscore my sense that 2014 will be a year for going deeper towards spiritual maturation. When chastened by a TV villain that he was "showing his age," Eve replied intensely, "I AM my age."  And in his commentary on living into an authentic spirituality, Rohr writes: "How you do anything is how you do everything...the goal of mature religion is to help us die before we die, so that we are ready for our REAL life!" Both feel true to me; how did St. Paul put it: When I was a child, I thought and acted like a child? But now that I have aged, it is time to put childish things away?  

This year we will have to help my father make some important and hard changes in his life.  He is both too old to continue independent living and too stubborn to do anything about his condition without a lot of encouragement. (I am joining my sisters in Maryland later this week to take the next step in this process.) As I embrace BEING my age, it is clear that this stage holds profound loss very close to ecstatic joy. I put it like this in my annual report:

This year has been one of profound loss for me as I wrestled with the death of my sister, the on-going tragedy of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my own health concerns, my anxiety about my daughter's pregnancy and my wife's health issues as well as the deaths of my friend Michael Daniels and rock and roll icon Lou Reed. Who knows why and how grief unlocks other wounds in our souls, but suffice it to say that this has been true for me in spades in 2013 - and I continue to sort out what it means to live through this grief by faith.

At the same time this year has also been filled with blessings beyond my wildest imagination - the most joyous being the birth of our first grandchild, Louis Edmund Piscitello in October. I was stunned to receive the gift of an upright bass this year, too and have enjoyed learning how to bring its rich sounds to the jazz of our various worship celebrations. Working with my Sabbatical Planning Team has been satisfying and demanding in ways I never expected - and our work has brought me personal and professional insights well in advance of the actual 2015 experience. I have found encouragement as the clergy of our region take small but significant steps towards building a local justice-advocacy network with the Berkshire Organizing Project, too.

In summary, I realize that this has been a year of depth, joy and sorrow, a year of solidifying what is good and true and letting some of the dross slip away to death. My partner in life and ministry, Dianne, has been a font of wisdom, encouragement and correction. Living in such proximity to our children has been a total gas.  And learning to be patient, clear and helpful to our gentle albeit neurotic puppy, Lucie, has been a journey of the soul that I have celebrated (mostly) with vigor.

Since arriving in the Berkshires I have been looking and listening for a spiritual director. I've sought out colleagues and clergy groups and while they have been loving and tender, as U2 likes to say, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." Twice in my life, once in Cleveland and once in Tucson, I had the privilege and grace to spend a few years with a wise spiritual director.  Both men helped me go deeper and BE my age.  I am ready for this type of encounter again in 2014.

I sometimes sort out my inner/outer journey by paying special attention to the music I am taking in.  In some ways, two unique jazz artists are giving expression to my realities in 2013.  The first is Joshua Redman whose performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival this summer was one of the highlights of my musical life.

The other would be a new artist, for me, Amir ElSaffar, who blends the sounds of comfort with chaos in ways that I find exciting and complex. His new CD, Alchemy, feels like a bookend next to Redman's music.

We will be leaving our winter retreat later today and slipping quietly back into Pittsfield this evening.  Tomorrow will be filled with pastoral visits and getting ready for our children's Epiphany Pageant on Sunday. It has been sweet to rest and reflect at the close of 2013.  Now it is on to the reality of a new year!


Phil Ewing said…
Thanks for a lovely reflection RJ. I wish you well in your S.D search. Good ones are hard to find ! Blessings for 2014.
RJ said…
I have so enjoyed your posts throughout Advent Phil, too. The energy, hope and grace being shared by Pope Francis I is palpable and I am so grateful and blessed by his gentle and loving witness. The art and music you have shared continues to nourish me, too. Blessings dear friend.
Peter said…
Yes, my man, a local spiritual director. I can state from blessed experience that such a resource is beyond price. I pray that God will put one in your way very soon.

I, too, have been blessed by your reflections this season. Thank you!
RJ said…
I am starting the search and open to possibilities... love to, my man.

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